Shadows

By Jennifer N. Bogle All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Romance

Ch. 6

“Terra you lazy girl wake up!” Mammy yelled as she pushed the princess off the bed. Still completely asleep, she was rolled right off the bed and landed on the cold stone floor with a thud.

“Ow!” Terra howled sitting up. “Mammy what was that for?”

“You weren’t waking up. I had to do what I had to do,” Mammy said, making the now vacant bed. “What time did you get in last night?”

Terra balked, she didn’t want to talk about her and Grey again. Over the past two weeks her dinners with Grey had been growing longer and longer every night. He was opening up and they would talk for hours after they had finished eating. Eric had stopped bothering to come with her at all. For the first few days he had come out of obligation, but after a rather large and angry fight he stopped coming all together. As far as Terra was concerned that was for the best. He was a jerk and it hurt her every time she had to be around him.

“It wasn’t that late,” she lied, not actually sure what time she’d actually gotten in. Mammy looked at her; she didn’t believe her for a minute.

“Anyway, you didn’t have to be so mean,” she said sulkily.

“You needed to wake up! Sixteen and already so lazy,” Mammy said, tisking under her breath.

“That’s today isn’t it?” She asked looking up at Mammy over her bed.

“It is,” Mammy said smiling so wide Terra was certain her cheeks must be hurting. “Oh Terra,” she said, tears starting to run down her cheeks.

“Mammy what’s wrong?” She asked, standing up.

“I’m just so happy for you. Sixteen and a real lady now. You’ll have your debutant ball tonight and be presented to the whole kingdom as a woman.” Mammy wiped away her tears. “You’ve grown up so fast. Now look at you, so beautiful and so kind. I would be the most blessed woman in all the kingdoms to call you my child.”

Terra walked to Mammy, feeling her eyes watering too. “Mammy I would be the one who would be blessed to have you as my mother.” She threw her arms around her beloved care taker and held her tightly. She loved Mammy so much. She had wished many times that Mammy was her mother. She would be loved then. Even now she wished it.

“Now, now,” Mammy insisted pulling away and wiping the tears from Terra’s eyes. “None of this today, today is a day for celebration. Now dry your eyes. Your new room is ready and we’re going to head up there and supervise where all of your things are placed. Then we have to get you ready for your ball.”

Terra hesitated for a moment. If they were going to move things in her room she would have to grab her journal and hide it somewhere before anybody found it. She would have to get away from Mammy for at least a few moments.

After another moment of mental debate, Terra had it.

“Don’t forget I have to take breakfast and lunch down to the prison,” she added.

“I hate that you’re like a maid for that monster,” Mammy grumbled angrily.

“I know,” Terra said. “But I had to save Diana.”

Mammy grumbled something under her breath that Terra couldn’t understand. She didn’t need to though; she knew very well Mammy’s feelings about her sister.

“She would do the same for me Mammy,” she insisted. “I’m going to put on the wrap and head down to the kitchen before anyone else gets up.”

“Not that thin wispy thing,” Mammy objected, “I don’t care what people are wearing in the Moon Kingdom. It’s not proper for lady to be out in so little fabric.”

“I know Mammy,” she said, “But we don’t have time to get me all laced up in a corset. So hand me the wrap so I can get going. You said yourself there’s a lot to get done today.”

Mammy muttered something under her breath, but did as Terra asked. She pulled the wrap from the small wardrobe they had set up for the princess in her room and handed it to her. It was a thin pale green material that had “excellent flow value” as Terra has said the first time she wore it. All you had to do was slip your arms in, wrap it around and tie it. It was like a robe but long and beautiful. Terra liked how simple and easy it was to put on.

She tied it on and slipped into the beautiful green slip shoes that had come with it. “Alright, I’m going to get going so we can get up to the room. I’ll be back soon,” she said, turning for the door.

“Not just yet!” Mammy yelled, “You’re a young lady now and you have to at least look like it. Sit and let me put your hair up.”

“Oh right!” She giggled. She ran over and jumped in the seat in front of Mammy’s vanity. Mammy with skilled deft hands had her hair up in a beautiful plait on her head in a matter of moments.

Mammy sighed at the princess with her hair up. She turned to gather up the princess’s shift off the floor and walked to the laundry basket. Seeing a chance to make her move, Terra got up as quickly and quietly as she could and snatched the journal from underneath Mammy’s writing desk. She moved it behind her back as Mammy turned back to face her.

“Alright,” she said satisfied. “Get going before someone sees you.” She shooed her out the door and watched as she ran down the hall. It was hard to her to believe that sixteen years ago the Queen had handed her off to Mammy like pup she no longer wanted. She sighed and turned to start packing Terra’s things.

Diana cracked her door open and watched as her sister ran past in one of the wraps the Moon Kingdom had given them. She never should have given Terra one. She looked good in it, too good. Diana was supposed to be the one that shone. Now more and more, people were talking about how beautiful Terra was becoming and how she would grow into a great beauty.

They’ll be singing a different tune after tonight.

For weeks Diana had been planning how to best exact revenge on her sister. So many things ran through her mind that she had to spend an entire week just shifting through them all. Then it hit her one night. She was sneaking through the tunnels to see Jack; who had turned out to be a good deal more fun than she had originally thought. She was about to pop out from behind a large painting of her father and mother at their wedding when she’d heard shouting.

It was Terra and her guard.

They were going on and on about her spending too much time with someone or something called Grey. Guard whatever-his-name-is looked disgusted and Terra looked like she would cry. They yelled for the better part of five minutes until he shouted something about not being able to stand the sight of her and stormed off.

Her sister promptly collapsed to the floor in tears.

Diana knew then how to get back at her sister.

She just needed to raise enough dark magic to do it.

With tonight being the night of the new moon, Diana would have enough dark magic to cast this curse multiple times if she wanted to.

She just had to wait for her parents to leave their room and she would make her move.

Terra would never see it coming.

“Jenny?” Terra called over the noise of the kitchen staff, busy making breakfast for the whole castle. “Jenny is the tray ready? I need to get down there quickly, it’s a busy day.”

A few people walked up and saluted her, wishing her a happy birthday and giving her blessings for the next year. A few of the young men in the kitchen took notice of the slim fitting dress she was wearing. One nearly lit his shirt of fire.

“I’m here princess,” Jenny said appearing in the thick of all the people carrying the tray for Grey. “Sorry we just got it done. Be careful with the bread it’s really hot. Oh and happy birthday princess.” Jenny curtsied to Terra once the tray was handed off.

“Thank you Jenny,” she replied ready to run off. “Oh are you coming tonight?”

“Tonight?” Jenny asked confused.

“Yea, to my ball thingy?”

Jenny looked around like she was waiting for someone to jump out and say gotcha! When she realized Terra was serious she said, “No princess, we weren’t invited.”

“What?” She asked laughing. “That’s ridiculous, of course you’re invited.”

An older woman stepped up to Jenny’s shoulder. It was her mother Tamera. “You are very kind to invite her,” she said, “but I’m afraid the Queen wouldn’t take kindly to kitchen staff being at a ball.”

“Well it’s my party,” Terra said simply. “I should be able to invite whoever I want. So I say you’re all invited. If my mother the Queen is angry than she can talk with me about it. You know where and when it is. I have to get going. See you all tonight!” She called running off, her need to hurry making her bold.

She was down the stairs and at the wooden doors faster than she thought was possible whilst carrying a tray full of hot food. As she came down the stairs she was surprised, and a little disappointed, to see Lewis still standing guard. His shift usually ended in the morning. It meant that nearly every night she had to face him as she went through the door.

He would stare at her every night as she came down the stairs. He didn’t even try to hide the fact that he was leering at her. He would watch the way she walked down the hall and his eye would linger on the parts of her that she considered extremely private.

Over the last few weeks Terra had really begun to enjoy her time with Grey. They talked over everything and he was very helpful when it came to her serious concerns about her upcoming ball. She would stay for hours and talk to him. For the first time in nearly all her life, she felt like she had a friend.

“Princess,” Lewis said openly leering again. “I don’t know what you’re wearing, but I like it.”

“I will take that as a complement, thank you Lewis. Will you get the door please?” He looked like he was going to say something else. Still he reached over and opened the door letting her pass. Terra quickly shot through the door and passed him before he could say anything further. Without looking back she kicked the door closed and sighed.

“Terra,” Grey said sounding somewhat breathless.

She smiled privately at the sound of him saying her name like that.

“Really?” He said smiling to. “Just the way I say your name makes you smile?”

“You promised not to read my mind the second I walked through the door,” Terra said, stopping halfway to the table.

“Did I say that?” He asked playfully. “It seems I can’t recall that conversation.”

“Well in that case I don’t know if I can recall what I’m supposed to do with all this breakfast. Hmm maybe I should take it out and see if Lewis is hungry.”

“You go do that, in that dress,” he laughed, “I’ll wait here and then when you want help to hide his body, come find me.”

“How do you know I would kill him?” She asked, continuing her walk to the table. “Maybe I’ll just give him a stern talking to.”

Grey shot her an are-you-serious look.

“A very stern talking to?” Terra set the tray down on the table, she looked around quickly and pulled her journal out from underneath the tray.

“What’s that?” Grey asked curiously.

“Nothing,” she said securing it under the table.

“I didn’t know you kept a journal,” he laughed as he read her thoughts. “Does it say anything about me?” He asked, keeping his tone light.

“Maybe,” she said with a smile.

“Does it say anything about Lewis and his lewd thoughts?” Grey asked sensing Terra’s heart spike at the thought of him in her journal.

She laughed, happy for the subject change and leaned against the glass wall. “The thoughts you think I’d kill him for?”

Grey matched her position and leaned his head down so he was closer to her eyelevel. “I know you would kill him because I know what he thinks about you. I can see what’s in his head every time you walk by.”

“And what does he think exactly?”

“Terra, if I told you what he thought about you it would curl your raven hair. Now I do believe there’s something important going on today isn’t there?” He asked, tapping his chin.

“Oh, you know there is!” Terra laughed. “I forgot today is the day you told me you were going on that crazy strict diet. Can’t rain fire and damnation down on the world with a potbelly. I’ll take this away for you.” She grabbed the tray off the table.

“Happy birthday Terra,” Grey said sincerely.

“Thank you,” she replied smiling, “here.” She put the tray up to the glass and pushed it through slowly. It was hard to balance the tray on just one end.

Grey grabbed the tray and pulled it though. He reached out with his free hand and caught Terra’s hand before she could pull it back. He gave her a small tug. “Come here.”

“Grey,” she mumbled, “I have to get going. Mammy will only wait for me for so long. Then she track me down like one of father’s hounds.” When he didn’t let go she added, “What?”

“Come in here so I can wish you a proper happy birthday,” Grey said pulling on her hand again. He leaned over and set the tray down on the table and grabbed her hand with both of his.

“You have two minutes,” she sighed, stepping through the glass. As she came through the cell wall Grey pulled her into a hug. It wasn’t the first time he hugged her. In truth it was closer to the fifth or sixth time. She and Grey talked about everything, sometimes Terra would get really upset and he would offer to hold her until she finished crying. She didn’t always take him up of the offer, more often than not she did.

“Happy birthday my little shadow,” he said into the top of her head.

Terra blushed. He often called her little shadow, it was one of his names for her. He had never before called her his little shadow.

“Th . . . Thank you,” she stammered.

“Can I ask you something?” He inquired, not pulling away.

“Of course.”

“Who gets the first dance?”

She laughed, “My father.” At a coming out ball like this the girls’ first dance was always with her father or grandfather. Whomever a princess danced with after that was the person the family favored to wed the princess. Grey was essentially asking who her mother wanted her to marry.

“You know what I mean,” he said giving her a squeeze.

Her heart fluttered and her whole mind started to race with thoughts about him and her dancing. She was a fool. Sooner or later he was going to completely exploit her, use her against her own sister. For now, he was going to play this part and widen the crack he had made.

“I don’t know,” she answered truthfully, starting to pull away. Mammy was going to be wondering where she was.

Grey pulled her back and in a quick movement he had her hand in his and a hand on her waist. He started slowly dancing with her.

“Grey,” she asked confused, “what are you doing?”

“Well,” he said as they spun slowly together, “I am a King in my right, so I thought I would get the first dance in.”

“Stealing the first dance with the daughter of the King who’s holding you as a prisoner? Sounds like a bad idea to me.” She said laughing.

Grey laughed with her as they spun in circles around his cell.

After a few minutes they were both laughing too hard to keep dancing. They stood, in each other’s arms, laughing about the way they danced. Terra wished she could stay. It was so much easier to be around Grey than to be around her family. Her mother was all over her about the party. Her colors, the music she wanted played, will she be able to dance in the new heeled shoes she had to wear, and finally could she behave herself during the dances she had lined up for her?

It was exhausting.

She really didn’t even want to have a dance.

Sadly, she would have to go through with it.

“I should get going,” she said finally.

“I know,” Grey said. He kissed the top of her head. “Will you be by for lunch?”

“I should be,” she said, blushing. “But I should get going. I don’t’ want Mammy to come looking for me down here. This would be hard to explain.”

“That is very true,” Grey said. As she stared to back away he suddenly felt overcome with something or some kind of feeling he’d never experienced before. Everything suddenly seemed to be moving in slow motion. Terra was looking up at him smiling as she backed away to leave, her face looked almost like it was glowing. Before he knew what he was doing he had grabbed a hold of her again. He put one hand behind her neck and other wrapped around her waist.

He pulled her close and turned her head up to face his. His lips were less than inch from Terra’s when he realized what he was doing. Her hands were on his chest and she was breathing rapidly, for that matter so was he. Her eyes were huge and they were frantically searching his for some kind of answer to what was happening.

She didn’t stop him though.

“G . . . Grey?” She gasped.

“Terra,” he whispered, still breathless. He leaned and put his forehead against hers. He wanted to throw her away from him. She was clouding up his mind and making him feel strange things and do things he didn’t even know he was doing.

Part of him wanted to pull her in the rest of the way and finish what he started.

“Grey,” she asked. “I don’t understand?”

“I don’t . . . I don’t know,” was all he could say. He couldn’t kiss her. That was moving forward to fast. He knew at some point it would get there, but not yet. He had only been working on corrupting her for a month. He knew if he rushed things he would mess everything up.

Still, he couldn’t let her go.

Terra wasn’t sure what was going on. All of a sudden Grey had grabbed her like he was going to kiss her. Then, at the last second, he froze. Now he had his forehead pressed against hers and looked so sad. She realized what was going on and it made her feel sad too.

She reached up and put her hands on either side of Grey’s face. They had gotten so close the last month and while Terra will admit that Grey was a very attractive man, she wouldn’t allow herself to think about him that way. She would not have feelings for a man who was responsible for so much death.

She turned his head so he was looking at her. “It’s ok,” she uttered. “I get that you’re trying to be nice I guess, but you don’t have to force yourself to do something that clearly you do not want to do.” Her voice was starting to crack and she had tears in hers eyes.

“Terra?!” He shouted alarmed that she thought he was hesitating because he was forcing himself to be near her. He searched her mind. She was so sad. She thought he was forcing himself to be close to her as kindness for her birthday. She wasn’t exactly wrong. He did have to force himself to touch her in a way that wasn’t homicidal. Still, he hadn’t banked on her looking and feeling this way.

It was like the part of Grey that was trying fight against whatever Terra was doing to him, just cracked and fell away. He pulled her in the rest of the way and kissed her. He knew even as he was doing it that it was a bad idea, but he was so caught up in everything he didn’t care.

As soon as his lips touched hers there was this feeling that surged through him. Like his whole body was suddenly hit by a bolt of lightning. He couldn’t have broken away from her if he had wanted to. He could tell by the way Terra’s breath caught in her throat that she as feeling something too.

“Terra!” Grey yelled! “What’s wrong with you? Are you ok?”

“What?” She asked slightly disoriented. She shook her head and everything in front of her tuned to smoke and vanished. She was standing with Grey in his cell and he still had a hold of her hand. It was like they were still dancing. Terra jumped back out of his arms and spun around. “What happened?”

“What do you mean what happened?” He asked a little offended that she had jumped back like he had bit her. “We were dancing and all of a sudden you just stopped. You froze. I tried talking to you, I even shook you and nothing happened. I tried to look in your mind but it was blank.

“It was like you were gone and your body was still standing here.”

Terra shook her head again. Nothing was making sense. They danced he kissed her she had seen it, hell she had felt it! There was no way she made that up in her head. She wouldn’t. She wouldn’t let herself feel about him. She wouldn’t even think about it.

So why was this happening now? Why could she still feel his lips on hers? She needed to go. She needed to go right now.

“I’m sorry Grey I have to go.” She turned on her heel and ran. Straight out of the box and through the doors, she didn’t even stop when Lewis said something to her she was sure was inappropriate. All the way up the stairs and through the west wing hall, she didn’t stop until she was sure she was out of Grey’s range.

She didn’t know what had happened, but she knew she needed answers. She needed to find Master Bell. He would know what was going on with her.

Grey watched Terra run from the room like it was on fire. He had been slowly pouring darkness into her as they danced. He had been trying to decide how best to make his next move when she had suddenly stopped moving.

He had actually been afraid that something was wrong with her.

Fear was not an emotion he felt, ever.

Grey paced nervously back and forth in his cell. He wasn’t sure if he was more alarmed about what happened to Terra, or the fact that he was alarmed at all.

Diana stared intently out the door, eyeing the master jeweler as he approached her parent’s room. He was carrying a small black box in his hands and he had the look of a very proud man. It was Terra’s signet ring. She was turning sixteen. Diana could care less about her sister’s birthday or her ball. All she cared about was getting her hands on that ring.

For almost a month Diana had planned for tonight. She had cast all the proper runes and pulled all the dark magic she could get her hands on. Everything else was ready; she just needed to get that ring to finish it all off.

Diana waited until the jeweler started to make his way back down the hall. As nonchalantly as she could, she wandered into her parent’s room. Her father was now holding the box with Terra’s ring and her mother was shouting at the men who were moving her large oak dressing table.

“Diana my dear, what can I do for you?” Her father asked. She gave her father a halfhearted curtsy and barely nodded at her mother.

“Hello Father, Mother,” she said. “I was wondering how the move was going?”

“Fine,” her father said. “I’m actually on my way to see about that right now. Elise will you be alright here?”

“I’m going to follow these incompetent morons,” Queen Elise replied, “I don’t trust them not to damage something.”

“Oh well I see you’re both so busy,” Diana said, searching her mind for an excuse to take the ring.

“Diana,” King Sol said looking as though he’d just been struck by a marvelous idea, “how would you like to present your sister with her signet ring tonight at the ball?”

Diana could have laughed at her luck. “I would love to,” she exclaimed, her voice full of fake excitement.

Queen Elise looked over at her eldest daughter and eyed her and her overly enthusiastic behavior suspiciously. Diana met her gaze head on and her mother turned away.

“Good,” King Sol said happily. He handed her the small black box and clapped her on her shoulder.

The princess waited until both her parents had left the room before she snuck off to Terra’s old chambers. Her sister had been avoiding it ever since Richard had attacked her. Since she was the youngest and that least important member of the castle, as far as Diana was concerned, her room would be handled last. So it was the perfect place for her to set up a small alter to work her hex.

It had worked out quite well for Diana, especially considering that Richard had been too badly burned to properly identify. Had the guards been able to ascertain who he was questions might have been raised. While Diana was always very careful about not being seen meeting up with any of her young . . . suitors . . . all it took was one person knowing the truth to cause irreprehensible harm to her and her reputation.

Shaking off such unpleasant thoughts, Diana turned back to the work at hand.

She opened the box and pulled out the small silver ring intended for her sister. It had her variation of their family crest cast in fine silver at the top. There was the bright sun on the outside with the pentacle in the center. Three of the five points were amethyst and two were moonstones. For Terra, on the inside of the pentacle there was a crescent moon that sat at the bottom pointing up. She claimed she had done it to honor her mother’s family in the moon kingdom. Diana didn’t really care why she did it. All she cared about was that her mother had it cast in silver and not gold. More than enough to show anyone that Terra was the so called shadow princess.

Diana flipped the box closed and laughed as she placed the ring in center of a small dish filled with blood. Not hers of course, the spell she was using on Terra’s ring only required the use of blood, not necessarily the blood of the caster.

Carefully she made her way around the room lighting the thirteen black candles that circled the room. Then back around the room lighting the seven white candles that made a circle inside the black ones. Finally she approached the table in the center and lit the five red candles that encircled her make-shift alter. Fire magic was something Diana did excel at.

With all the candles lit Diana turned back to the ring. She opened the small black book of curses and hexes and turned to the page she needed. After having to prepare for so long, Diana was sure she could have recited the curse by heart. Still, she didn’t want to take any chances so she pressed the pages down to keep it open and started to recite the lines.

She paused halfway through. She had reached the part that required her to summon the dark magic. At first it was hard to call on any dark magic. She hated the way it felt when she started. It was hard to breath at first, and the dark magic took all the light in the room away. She was frightened until the power started to surge through her.

It was like nothing she had ever felt before.

There was so much power swirling all around.

Dark or not, she loved it.

It wasn’t even half the power she needed to curse Terra’s ring. Every night she pulled more and more dark magic, careful not to pull too much and alert anyone who might be able to sense such dark things. It had taken the better part of three weeks to get everything she needed together and since the ring wasn’t ready yet, Diana just kept pulling dark magic, night after night.

She pulled all the magic she had left hovering around the room and, using herself as channel, funneled it into the ring. Darkness whirled around her as she started to call out the last of the curse. There was moment where Diana was afraid things weren’t working like they were supposed to. She finished the curse but the dark magic just kept coming.

It swirled around her like a dark black tornado. It obscured all the light in the room and made her feel like she was trapped in a dark cell somewhere.

For the smallest moment of time Diana was afraid she had made a terrible mistake dabbling in such dark magic.

Finally, it stopped.

Diana looked down at her alter. Terra’s ring started to glow with a black light. Slowly it absorbed all the blood in the dish and flashed red three times. Her curse was complete and the ring was hexed. She threw her head back and laughed. She would finally show her sister once and for all that no one puts themselves ahead of her.

She grabbed a small pair of tongs and picked the ring up. As careful as she could she put the ring back in the box. She had to make sure she didn’t touch it or the curse would rebound on her. She snapped the box closed and set about cleaning up her alter before the movers set in on Terra’s room.

Terra knocked on Bell’s door. She had managed to calm herself on the walk to his room, although her heart felt like it might fly out of her chest. Finally she could hear the sounds of someone approaching. Bell opened the door.

“Master Bell I have to talk to you,” she said walking past him through the door, and into his room. “I hate to barge in on you but this is an emergency.” She walked a safe distance away from the door and turned to face him. Not saying anything he pushed the door closed and walked over to her.

“Happy birthday Princess,” He said bowing to her. “Now tell me what has you so worried that you’re at my door before breakfast.”

“Ok, I need to ask you a question but to do that I need to tell you about something that happened,” she explained, “but I can’t tell you everything and I need you to be ok with that.”

Bell smiled calmly, “Princess tell me everything that you can and I will help to the best of my abilities.”

“Thank you Master Bell,” she sighed. “So I was visiting a . . . friend.”

“A male friend?”

“Yes,” she admitted blushing, “and he was wishing me a happy birthday and we were joking about the ball tonight and um, he started dancing with me, just as a joke. Then . . . well I was going to leave and I thought . . . I thought.” Terra stopped. Images flashed through her mind of her and Grey holding each other, kissing each other. For a moment she couldn’t speak.

“Terra just tell me what you can, don’t feel like you have to tell me anything you don’t’ want to. Do the best you can,” he prompted. He took the princess by the elbow and led her to a small dark blue couch. He sat down and pulled her to sit next to him.

“Ok,” Terra said, taking a deep breath. “I thought he kissed me. I swear to you it was like he pulled me close and kissed me. I could feel his lips on mine and his hand on my neck. But more than that it was like I was in his head. I could hear his thoughts and feel what he felt. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.

“Then the next thing I knew everything in front of me disappeared. It was like smoke, there one minute gone the next. Then I was standing there, nothing had happened. According to him we were dancing one minute and I was gone the next. He couldn’t get me to move or speak or anything.

“Master Bell what happened to me?”

Bell was quiet as he considered what she had said. “Princess may I ask, this man, did you want him to kiss you?”

“No,” she exclaimed with a defeated sigh.

“Well then I believe you had a premonition.”

“A premonition? How? Master Bell I’ve never had any kind of precognitive abilities before.” Terra couldn’t believe that it was as simple as a premonition.

“To be fair Princess,” he commented, “You’ve never officially been my student and so you’ve never been fully tried and tested. We don’t really know what you are or aren’t capable of. At least for now.”

“What do you mean by now?”

“Tonight I think you’ll understand fully what I mean. Until then, I hear that Mammy is looking for you.”

“Master Bell.”

“Don’t worry Princess. All that happened was your magic warned of what was going to happen if you continued to keep dancing. There’s nothing to be alarmed about. Now go. Mammy is not a woman to be kept waiting.”

Terra nodded, not sure she really understood what Bell had said. Still, if he said things would be fine than she trusted him. She nodded her thanks and excused herself. If Mammy really was combing the halls for her than it must be time to start moving her room.

She headed up to Mammy’s room assuming that would be the best place to start looking.

Eric paced the floor in his room. Ever since he had become a royal guard he no longer stayed in the barracks. He had been given a room very near to Terra’s new room. Not that he was enjoying the proximity to her. He could barely look at her lately. Ever since they had that huge blow out in the hall, he’d been avoiding her completely. He would follow behind her and make sure she got down to the prison ok and he would wait in the hall until he felt her coming up the stairs. Then he would go and hide in the passage off the stairs until she was safe in her room.

He couldn’t look at her.

Every time he did he could hear that monsters voice in his head talking about how she had named him! He didn’t understand how she could do such and intimate thing. It made him sick to his stomach to think about it even now.

He would still do his duty by her. Even if it meant he did it in shadow.

Tonight, however, was a completely different situation all together.

He would have to be by her side all night to make sure none of the guests tried anything funny while they were dancing. He would have to literally be over her shoulder the entire evening.

At least until she went to take dinner to that monster.

Eric took a deep breath.

It was going to be a very long night.

Terra stood in front of her new door. She was finally all moved into her new room. She wasn’t sure how to feel about this new room of hers. It was over double the size of her last room, and it was certainly more private. Her only problem was that the old west wing had a turret at the end. It was old and sturdy and stood so tall you could see over the castle walls. It was Terra’s favorite place to play when she was little.

That was her new room.

If you took the grand staircase all the way up to the fifth floor and then then up the old staircase to the seventh floor there was a door at the top that opened up to the turret. There was a room there at the bottom of the spiral staircase, for Eric, and a door that lead to the bottom half of the stair case. Those stairs lead to the very bottom floor of the castle where the rest of her family’s rooms were. Another set of stairs to the right of Eric’s door spiraled up to her room.

Terra originally felt bad that her family was so far removed from her. After careful thought though, she was glad for the privacy. She had a way to get to and from her room without having to pass by Diana’s. That alone was something to be grateful for. With the exception of Eric, she was alone in her own little corner of the castle.

Deciding it was best to be grateful for such and nice room, Terra pushed the door open and headed inside.

Her room was lovely.

Mammy had said that as part of her birthday present, her father had commissioned new furniture for her new room. Her bed was huge! She was pretty sure she could sleep comfortably in any position. It had a lovely purple and green canopy and a thick purple and sliver quilt. She had a new writing desk against one wall and several large bookcases up against another. She now had a beautiful couch and matching chair near the bed and finally a much larger wardrobe and dressing table.

For Terra, the best part was huge bay window. It had padded seat so you could sit and look out the huge window for hours. She loved every bit of it. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen and to think that it was all hers! She couldn’t believe how lucky she was.

“Good you’re here!” Mammy said coming up behind her. She was huffing up the stairs carrying a dress and some heeled slippers.

“Mammy,” she smiled pushing the door open all the way and standing back. “Do you need help?”

“No dear,” Mammy said. “I just need to get you cleaned up and ready for the ball.”

It took literally all day to get both the room and the princess in order.

At least it gave Terra an excuse to avoid lunch with Grey.

Mammy had her in a traditional white dress with a tight laced corset and full skirt. Instead of having long sleeves this dress had sheer white cap sleeves that hung off her shoulders. It was beautiful. Add to that the way Mammy wound her hair up on her head and pulled down little ringlets of curls around her face. Terra looked like a woman now.

She caught sight of Mammy in the mirror behind her. Her eyes were glassy with tears but she was beaming with pride.

“Mammy I swear if you cry I’ll cry,” she warned, “then all the work you just put in with the funny pencils and creams will be for not.”

“I know,” Mammy said drying her eyes, “it just makes me so proud to see you all dressed up like this. Now, will Guard Reynolds be escorting you tonight?”

Terra made a face and looked away.

“I’m sorry dear,” Mammy said seeing the princess’s face, “I don’t know what you two are fighting about but I’m sure everything will work out ok. Once you two cool down everything will go back to normal.”

“Well whether that’s true or not, I think I will be escorting myself tonight,” she sighed, forcing a smile.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Eric called from the open doorway.

Terra spun quickly to see him standing quietly outside her door. She hated that her heart leapt at the sight of him, even more so she hated that Eric could sense that through the bond and it made him grimace. Terra’s heart felt like it might break every time he looked at her like that. Her shoulders drooped and she looked away.

“Good evening princess,” he intoned formally saluting her with his fist over his heart. “I’ve come to escort you to your ball.”

“Of course,” she replied glumly, not looking up. “Thank you Guard Reynolds.”

Mammy stepped up behind her and wrapped a sheer and sparkling shawl around her shoulders. It was made of the same material as the skirt of her dress and the small cap sleeves. She took one last look at herself in the looking glass; she looked beautiful but so very, very sad.

“Thank you Mammy,” she mumbled quietly.

“Don’t think of it dear,” Mammy said. She kissed Terra on the cheek and pushed her gently toward Eric. “Have fun and Eric you look after her.”

“I will,” he replied standing aside so Terra could walk through the door.

She stepped past him and kept walking. She didn’t want to wait for him. She just wanted to go alone and not have to deal with all the crazy that seemed to surround them. She hadn’t even reached the first step before Eric was silently at her side.

She thought of hundreds of different things she could say to start a conversation with him. Every time she looked up to say something his face made her pause. So she hung her head and said nothing on the trip down to the ballroom. The very long trip down to the ballroom.

Outside the double doors to the ballroom, King Sol stood waiting for them. His eyes lit up when he saw her coming down the hall in her dress. The princess couldn’t help but smile at her father and rush forward throwing her arms around him. He laughed at how young she still was and wrapped his arms around her.

“My dear little princess,” he said cupping her face in his hand. “Can it really be you’ve grown so much?”

Terra smiled; she loved when her father called her his little princess. She always felt so loved when it was just the two of them together.

“I don’t know that I’m any older Papa,” she replied, “I feel the same as always.”

“Well you look more like a young lady today, beautiful and strong. Are you ready?” King Sol nodded toward the double doors of the ballroom. His page, Markus, was standing exchanging pleasantries with Eric, but when the King turned he walked to the door and grabbed the handle. He watched the King waiting for the sign to open.

“I think so,” she answered. “Wait Papa, where’s Mother and Diana?”

“Oh they’re already inside,” he answered offhandedly.

“Oh,” she muttered, her heart sinking, “I thought that we were supposed to be the first one’s in tonight? Since you’re the King and it’s my ball. I thought that’s what we did with Diana.”

“Oh that,” the King said uncomfortably. “Well your mother and sister just wanted to make sure everything was perfect for you.”

“Well that’s very kind of them,” she stated, knowing her father was lying. “I’m ready Papa.”

King Sol smiled and nodded toward the door. Markus cracked it, stuck his head in and whispered something. King Sol took Terra’s hand in his arm and turned to the door. She could hear the trumpets sounding on the other side. Her heart felt like it was beating a mile a minute. She had to keep reminding herself to breathe.

She glanced back at Eric before the door opened, he was fiddling with something on his uniform, he didn’t look up, even though Terra knew he knew she was looking. With a defeated sigh she turned and faced forward just as the doors were opening.

There were people lining either side of the doorway packed together and craning their necks to get a look at Terra and the King. Toward the back she could just make out Jenny and a handful of other kitchen staff waving wildly at her. She smiled at them as her father started forward looking noble as he lead her down a carpeted entry way toward a small stage set at the end of the ballroom. Queen Elise and Diana were standing at one end of the stage not paying any attention to Terra or her father.

Her mother and sister stood in near identical gowns. Both were deep red color and both had an even deeper neckline. The only difference Terra could see was that her mother’s gown had long sweeping sleeves and her sisters and sheer red cap sleeves. As Diana and Elise turned to converse about something in quite whispers, Terra saw that her sisters dress had a number a rubies laid into the fabric while her mother’s was plain.

Only the best for Diana.

Slowly, they made their way down the long carpet toward the stage, waving and saying their hellos. Terra didn’t recognize most of the people crowded around them, she could tell some of them were from other kingdoms and some were from other places around their own kingdom. Still she smiled and waved as they walked.

When, finally, they made it to the stage, King Sol stepped up and pulled his daughter up too. He walked to the edge of center stage and held up both hands to hush the crowd. He glanced around, smiling benevolently as a King does. When the crowd went silent he motioned for Terra to join him.

“My friends and kinsmen,” King Sol called his voice booming through the ball room. “Allow me to thank you for being here tonight as we present my youngest daughter to the world. So without too much fuss, please allow me to introduce Terra Elisabeth Princess of the Kingdom of Sol!”

Terra wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but the quiet applause and ripple of approval wasn’t what she had in mind. Still she smiled graciously and waved at everyone. She was really trying to look the part of the gracious princess on her birthday. It was exhausting. Terra’s arm was starting to hurt from waving so much.

King Sol lifted both his hands again to quiet everyone down. “Now, may I present the eldest princess of Sol, Diana Regina. Our princess of prophesy!”

The entire ball room erupted in applause. People were cheering and shouting as Diana walked from the side of the stage to stand next to her sister. She curtsied deeply to her father who offered her his hand to help her up. She smiled magnanimously at every one, dazzling them with her natural beauty and charm. Terra wanted to walk to the back of the stage and hide from all the people who had clearly forgotten about her.

King Sol turned and put a hand on Terra’s shoulder and then walked to the back of the stage to stand with the Queen.

Diana faced all the guests and said, “I’m so honored you could all be here tonight just to see my little sister. As is tradition in our kingdom, I will now present my dear little Terra with her signet ring.” Diana produced a small black box from a hidden pocket in her deep red dress.

Terra hadn’t noticed before, but Diana was wearing the exact same dress as she was. Only hers was in a deep red and encrusted with rubies that accented her pale skin and made her hair look golden. Terra couldn’t believe her sister would do something like that. Diana completely outshone her in every way tonight. Feeling exceptionally low, she turned to look at her sister.

“This ring is a sign that dear Terra is now a woman. She will use it to seal letters, mark important documents and show the world that she is a member of this royal family. It also signals that Terra is now of age to receive suitors for marriage. Of course that’s only after I get married. ”Diana smiled and flirted with the crowd, generally making Terra feel sick. After a few moments of shameless ego stroking, Diana opened the box and presented the ring to her sister.

Hesitating for only a moment, she reached forward and pulled the ring from the soft black velvet it was nestled in.

A sudden pain her chest made it hard for her to focus. She slipped the ring on her finger and focused all her will on keeping the smile on her face. Something felt wrong, really wrong. It seemed dark and frightening and Terra was sure that soon she wouldn’t be able to hide that something was wrong.

She could feel the air around her get sucked away and turn stagnant. Her vision began to swim and she was certain she would die. Her hand felt wrong, dark somehow. And that dark feeling was creeping up her arm toward her heart.

Suddenly she felt it, the second heartbeat in her chest. It was the same as it was the first time she felt it. It beat in her chest a few times and then suddenly everything was fine. She no longer felt unwell or like she might faint. She was fine.

She looked down at her finger.

Her ring was beautiful.

Silver too!

She had always hated gold. It was too loud and seemed to demand too much attention. Silver suited her better. Not to mention silver was one of the colors of her Magic. She had wanted it in silver but was afraid of what her mother might say if she asked.

“We have one more announcement to make this evening,” Queen Elise said as she walked up to center stage. “It has come to our attention that our youngest child, Terra, may in fact be blessed with some magical abilities.”

Terra turned wide eyed to face her mother. She had always told people that Terra had no magical power. She told her from the time she was little that her getting trained would just take away from Diana’s training and if she did that Diana could die during her epically prophesied battle. So naturally Terra did what her mother expected of her and didn’t fight about being trained.

What her mother was saying now made no sense to her.

“Both the King and I are elated to think that both our daughters might be so blessed by the creator. Starting tomorrow morning, Terra will begin training with the Master Wizard.” Elise turned and smiled at her daughter. Her face was tight and Terra could tell she wasn’t happy about what she had just said.

Not wanting to incur anymore of her mother’s wrath, she curtsied deeply and said, “Thank you Mother.”

Elise turned to head back to her husband’s side but stopped next to Terra. She stood shoulder to shoulder with her daughter facing the back wall. “Do not mistake this for something that it is not. This was your father’s idea as a means to say thank you for saving your sister. That is all.”

By the time she had gotten back up her mother and Diana had moved back to the back of the stage and her father was approaching her and waving to the musicians to start up.

At the sound of music, everyone surrounding the stage moved off and assumed their dancing positions. King Sol took Terra by the hand and led her to the dance floor. She had been practicing this dance for a long time, but still she was so nervous.

“Don’t worry,” her father said, “I know you’ll do fine.”

“I’m so nervous Papa,” she muttered under her breath.

“Now, now chin up and keep smiling. You’re my daughter and I know you can do anything. Now, just as we practiced.”

King Sol led his daughter around the dance floor as the music played on. She stumbled a few times and stepped on his feet a number of times. Not that anyone watching them would have known. King Sol danced with his baby and enjoyed every minute, knowing it would be the last time he danced a first dance with his daughter. She was a young woman now.

Diana stood near to her mother and waited.

Any minute now the ring would start working and her father would look down at her sister in complete disgust. Then everyone around would start to feel it and they too would look at Terra and realize she was nothing. Diana secretly hoped it would get violent. A good fight was just what she needed to brighten her night.

Still they danced.

Not just danced, but apparently they were both quite witty as they started to laugh.

Diana didn’t understand the ring should have started working by now. If she had read the curse correctly it should have stated working the second she touched it. Maybe it was all of her obsessive goodness that kept the ring from working right away. Still by now there was no reason why the thing shouldn’t be doing its job.

Diana was really starting to get mad.

A thought struck her then.

Could it have been possible that Terra had somehow purified the dark magic?

No, it wasn’t possible.

There was simply too much dark magic for something like that to have happened.

Still, it was the only thing that made sense.

Infuriated, Diana slipped to the back of the room and out through one of the many secret passages in the ball room. She wasn’t sure what happened but she intended to find out.

Eric stood silently off to the side of the stage. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to stay awake all night at this rate. He looked back up to the stage. Diana was saying something about getting married, Eric wasn’t all that interested.

Terra pulled out her ring and instantly Eric could tell something was wrong. There was a strange pain in his hand and for a moment he couldn’t see or breathe. He was sure he was dying. Which meant Terra was dying.

Then, just like that, the pain was gone. He was fine for a moment, until a searing pain in his head halted him again. It was like his mind was on fire. Everything was starting to spin. He leaned back against the wall to help steady himself, hoping it would pass soon.

He looked up at Terra, terrified she was dying, and everything faded away. There was no more pain, no more fire, and no more dizziness. He was fine. He stared at Terra and suddenly there was a rushing of air around him. It lifted the sash from his chest and ruffled his long brown hair.

Terra, he could feel it, he could feel his emotions for her come back in a rush. A moment ago he was convinced he hated her, hated the way she was kind to their enemy, but more than all of that, he had hated her for being bonded to him.

He didn’t hate her.

To the contrary, he cared a good deal for her. She was beautiful and funny and her compassion was something he truly admired about her. It was easy to hate an enemy, to loath everything they did or said. It was an incredibly difficult thing to show kindness and compassion for one such as the Shadow King. That kindness and compassion were things he loved about her.

Then he remembered all things he had said to her in the past month.

He had called her such awful names and said terrible things to her and about her. He had abandoned his duties as her friend and as her Royal Guard. He thought he might be physically ill as he thought about how he had treated her.

It was the spell from Bell.

He had wanted to separate his real emotions from the bond emotions. Not because he didn’t want to care about her, but because he thought he loved her. He wanted to be sure that was how he felt before he told her. Somehow things had gone wrong and now if she didn’t hate the very sight of him she should.

He had to tell her.

He looked up and realized she was already dancing with her father. He didn’t know the song they were dancing to well, but he knew enough to know it was almost over. If he could sneak in and grab her before the next dance, he might have the opportunity to explain before the dancing started again. It wasn’t much but he had to try.

Terra smiled as she danced with her father. It was easier to handle things if she just pretended it was the two of them, dancing alone like at practice. Sadly their song was ending. Soon she would have to go face her mother and find out who the Queen had planned for her to dance with. At least after tonight she would know who her mother wanted her to marry. That was something she supposed.

“I’m afraid our dance is almost done,” King Sol said sadly. “I had hoped it would last a little longer.”

“Me too Papa,” she said. “Will you stay? Then maybe we can dance together again?”

King Sol looked down at his daughter with sadness in his eyes. “I’m afraid not my little princess. I have to look over some reports concerning Lord Howe’s missing son.”

“I understand,” she said. “Have they still not found Richard?”

“I’m afraid not. It’s been near two months with no word. We’re starting to assume the worst.”

“I’m so sorry Papa. I can’t imagine how hard that must be for him. Is there anything I can do to help? I would gladly do anything to help find the young man. I know the Howe’s are very dear friends.”

King Sol smiled kindly at his daughter. Her need to help others gave him such pride. “I will tell Lord Howe of your concern and if there is anything you can do I will let you know.”

“Thank you Papa,” Terra said as the music faded out.

As was tradition, both the Princess and the King bowed to each other and then parted. Applauding the band, she began to make her way to her mother to find her next dance partner.

A hand on her wrist stopped her.

She turned to see Eric holding her with something strange behind his eyes. She wasn’t sure what it was but she really didn’t have time be insulted right then.

“Let me go Eric, I don’t know what I’ve done now but can you be cruel to me later? I don’t want to keep my mother waiting.”

“Terra,” he pleaded with difficulty. “I need to talk to you, please, right now before the next dance starts.”

She glanced at Eric and then back at her mother. She was staring at her and she wasn’t happy. There was a man standing next to Queen Elise and he was staring at her awkwardly. She needed to get up there before she enraged her mother and she decided to take back her promise about Terra getting trained.

“Eric whatever it is, it can wait. I don’t have time for you to belittle me right now. I must go.” She turned away from him and tried to keep walking. Eric, still holding her wrist, walked with her.

“Terra please I really need to talk to you. It can’t wait it has to be now,” he whispered at her as they walked across the dance floor.

Seeing the princess with a man in tow, the musicians started up again. Everyone around them assumed their dancing positions. Terra looked around frantic. She was still half a room away from her mother and there were now hundreds of people in her way. She looked to her mother who was shaking her head in shame.

Queen Elise looked at her daughter and mouthed the word ‘dance’. When Terra didn’t understand that, she mouthed it again and made small dancing gestures with her fingers. She looked at her pleadingly. She would have given anything to not have to dance with Eric. Unfortunately the music was starting and there was no other choice.

“Do you know this dance?” She demanded, rounding on Eric.

“What,” he asked, caught off guard.

“This dance starting and I haven’t got time to make my way to the other end of the room before the dancing starts. And I’m pretty sure if I try to walk through the dancing people, my mother will murder me. Now tell me, do you know this dance?”

“Yes of course,” Eric replied, he was trained as a gentleman as well as a soldier.

“I’m sorry then,” Terra sighed, resigning herself. “We’ll have to dance this one together.”

Queen Elise smiled as she watched her youngest daughter take the arms of her guard. She had intended her first dance to be with her half-wit second cousin, but this was much better. Her cousin, half-wit though he may be, was still royalty. He was only a few heartbeats from the throne of the Moon Kingdom. That Terra would take her first dance as a woman with a commoner was truly fitting.

Eric took Terra by the hand and placed his hand on her waist. He pulled her in as the dance required and felt his heart leap at her closeness. It had been so long since he had been able to enjoy his proximity to her. For a moment he just smiled and started to dance.

He reached out through the bond as he used to do, to see if she was as happy as he, only to be reminded that she was still thinking he hated her. Taking a deep breath for courage he spoke.

“Terra, I’m sorry I messed up your first dance, but I really need to talk to you.”

“Why,” she asked forlornly, “Haven’t you said enough already?”

“Terra please,” he said desperately. “I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you or to say those things to you . . .”

“Then why?!” She demanded, tears in her eyes. “Why would you say such things to me? What did I do to so incite your hate?”

“Oh Terra,” Eric whispered, his heart breaking at the sound of pain in her voice. Pain that he had caused her. “I asked Bell to help me sort through my emotions.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“After what happened in Bell’s room last month, I didn’t know what emotions were mine and what were caused by the bond. So I asked the wizard to help me sort through them.”

“Why?”

“Terra,” he explained, as he spun her around the dance floor. “I thought I loved you. When I kissed you that day I wanted to hold you and kiss you and tell you that I loved you.”

“I see,” she acknowledged. “That was a problem so you asked Bell to make it go away.”

“No,” Eric exclaimed, almost shouting. Glancing around making sure no one had heard him, he continued. “It wasn’t a problem. Terra if I was going to hold you and tell you that I loved you, I wanted to know for sure that it was what I felt and not what our bond was making me feel.”

She was silent.

She danced around the room with Eric as she pondered what he had said. She had wanted for so long to make up with him and to make things the way they were before. What he was saying made sense. Although part of her wondered if maybe it all made sense because she wanted it to. She wanted to makeup with Eric and so much. Was it possible that she was making sense out of nothing?

“Terra, please say something,” Eric begged as the song started to wind down. “I know you can’t forgive me just yet, but please tell me you at least believe me.”

“I want to,” she confessed. “Eric I want to believe you so much. I want to believe and to let everything go back to the way it was. I hate fighting with you, I hate fighting in general.”

“But . . .” Eric said, sensing the princess wasn’t done yet.

“But I don’t know if can take you at your word right now.” She admitted as the second song started to end.

“Then don’t. Use our bond. Reach out and feel that I’m being honest with you,” He urged, knowing his time was almost up.

Terra nodded and closed her eyes; she knew the dances so well now that she didn’t need to see to dance. She reached out through her bond and felt Eric at the other end. She was hit with an overwhelming sense of remorse. There was guilt and remorse battling for top emotion in his heart. He was so sorry for all he had said and done. Terra could feel that now. He was being honest, about everything. What had happened with Bell, and about how he felt about everything.

There was only one thing that wasn’t the same as far as Terra could tell.

When she had last reached out through the bond to see how Eric was feeling about her, he had been close to loving her. He cared for her a great deal then.

Now, however, it seemed that only a fraction of what he had originally felt was there. He cared for her very much, but only as a friend now or maybe a bit more. Bell had, it seemed, not just separated his emotions for her, he had destroyed them. Terra wasn’t sure why some of it had come back and some hadn’t, but she was grateful to know that at least she would have her friend back.

“Eric,” she whispered quietly. “I’m glad that you’re ok and I do believe what you’ve told me.”

“But . . .” he prompted again.

“But what you said and how you treated me hurt in a way I can’t really explain. I know now that you weren’t yourself.”

“Bell . . .” Eric started.

“I know,” Terra cut in, not letting him finish. “I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know that you aren’t that man and that you didn’t mean those terrible things.”

“I see,” Eric said reaching out through the bond. “You’re still hurt.”

She nodded, not trusting her voice.

“Is it that you can’t trust me? Or are you just too hurt to try?”

“It’s not that,” she tried to explain. “Part of it is that the words hurt and even though you don’t mean them, they still hurt. Then . . .” She stopped, unsure of how to go on.

Eric reached out again to see what Terra wasn’t saying. Their song was ending and he knew he couldn’t get away with sealing a second dance. It only took a second to find the problem she was still having. It was one of the most prominent thoughts in her mind.

“My emotions aren’t all back,” he said simply.

Terra nodded.

“Does that make you afraid?”

She opened her mouth, a lie ready on her lips. Thinking better of it she said, “a little, yes.”

As the last notes played Eric pulled her close and whispered in her ear, “I know things aren’t exactly the same, but don’t mistake the lack of emotion for a lack of caring. I do care for you more than I can say. I promise you I will make this up to you.”

The song ended then and the two stepped back from each other and bowed.

Terra glanced at Eric, unsure of what to say to him now. So she smiled tightly and headed toward her mother. When she got to the stage she was shocked to find her mother smiling down at her as thought something was funny.

“I’m so sorry Mother,” she said hurriedly.

“Don’t be child,” she said still smiling. “Did you enjoy your dance with your guard?”

“Yes,” Terra lied badly.

“Good then. Here’s your dance card, hurry along now and try not to step on any toes.”

For Terra, the next few hours seemed to drag on.

She danced with noble after noble and Lord after Lord. She stepped on toes, capes and at one point she actually managed to topple a man over. Still they came to dance and she was forced to endure what she considered to be the worst punishment she had ever faced.

Finally the trumpets sounded the call to dinner and the time to stop dancing. Terra bowed to her last partner, a very handsy middle aged man who was some kind of baron in her mother’s kingdom. He watched her bow and then watched her come back up, his eyes never leaving the low bust line of her dress.

Eric stepped in before the man could say much and explained to the man that the Princess was needed at her father’s side for dinner. He smiled and said he understood and then bowed to the princess, before walking away.

Dinner looked like a lovely feast, made in her honor with all her favorite foods. For the first time in weeks she wished she could stay and eat with her family. She knew that wasn’t possible. She had duty to do to her kingdom and to her friend.

So she sat with her father for a moment and then explained that the excitement of the day was getting to her and she would have to retire. She urged everyone to stay and enjoy the night and then curtsied and thanked them graciously for attending her ball. The whole hall stood and formally saluted her with their fists over their hearts.

Terra exited through the main doors and then doubled back around the hall to the kitchen. Jenny was waiting as always with the tray of food for Grey. She was ready to grab the tray and go when a noise from Jenny stopped her.

“What’s wrong?” She asked when she saw the girl’s odd expression.

“Your shoulders majesty,” Jenny exclaimed, “when did you get such scars?”

“Oh,” she uttered. She had completely forgotten about the scars that now adorned her shoulders. She and Mammy had come to call them her wings. She hadn’t thought about the fact that they would show in this dress. She grabbed her wrap and pulled up tight under her chin and picked up the tray up again.

“It’s just an old scar,” Terra said, half lying. “I’m not really sure how I got it.”

“I’m sorry Majesty,” Jenny said, “I didn’t mean to pry.”

“It’s ok. Don’t worry about it Jenny. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Princess, don’t you look . . . womanly tonight,” Lewis said as she made her way down the stairs. It was a very difficult thing to do in heels, a long skirt, and with a plate of food for two.

“Lewis,” Terra said irritably. “Would you be so kind as to get the door please? This tray is heavy and the food hot.”

“Of course Princess. Another long night tonight?”

Terra ignored him and walked through the door kicking it closed again.

“Terra!” Grey said a little surprised.

“I know I’m late but it is my birthday so you should just pretend I’m on time ok?” She asked light and jokingly as she set the tray on the table and started to divide the food.

“Terra,” he called irritably.

“Yes Grey?”

“Are you really going to stand there and talk about being late when you still haven’t explained to me what happened earlier? Why you ran out of here like the room was on fire?”

“Grey I don’t know what to tell you.” Terra wasn’t sure what she could and couldn’t say. She knew she didn’t want him to know what she had seen earlier. Still, she knew him well enough now to know that he wasn’t going to let up until he got answers.

So, being very careful about what she thought, Terra thought about Bell and the prophecy thing without actually thinking about the prophecy. She let her mind wander over the conversation she had with Bell and the things he had told her about the possibility of her having visions.

“What’s this?” Grey said, displeased. “Your bond is so much stronger tonight. What happened?”

Before she could help it, Terra was thinking about everything she and Eric had talked about that night. Every detail was still fresh in her mind so it didn’t take much to call it forward. She could tell by the way Grey became quiet that he was seeing it to. She thought about how things were still different now even though they were better. She knew that most of what he felt for her was gone.

“I see,” he said. “So you and the young Mr. Reynolds have made up then.” He was trying to sound like he didn’t care but Terra wasn’t convinced. He seemed to care at least a little about the fact they were friends again.

“We sort of made up,” she said honestly. “Apparently there was some kind of a mix up with a spell Master Bell did. He knows now that we’re friends and he cares about me in that capacity. Nothing like before.”

“I can see that,” he stated. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“It is,” answered quietly, loading Greys food on to his tray.

“So what’s wrong then?”

She sighed. “Can’t you see?”

“Sadly no. Your bond with Reynolds is stronger now and it makes it hard enough just to get into you head. Your heart is masked to me.”

“Oh.” She thought for a moment. Realizing that coming right out with it would be best she said, “Can I be honest with you Grey?”

“Of course, I would hope you are always honest with me. We agreed to that before yes?”

“Yes, but there are things I don’t tell you. This is one of those things.”

Grey walked to the corner near where Terra was standing. “You can tell me anything. It’s not like I’m going to tell someone else.”

“I know that,” she explained as she put the tray to glass. “The simple fact is I don’t know what my continued exposure to you will do to me in the end.”

Grey froze halfway through pulling the tray through the glass. “What, uh, what do you mean?”

“I mean that you excrete darkness. It’s almost always floating around the floor when I’m in here. I don’t know if that’s a conscience or an unconscious thing, all I know is that you do. For all I know you could be sitting in there purposely trying to corrupt me with your darkness.”

Grey opened his mouth to say something but Terra put a hand up to silence him. “Grey, if you’re not, then you’re and idiot. I know you well enough, now, to know you are no idiot. My point is that I could wake up tomorrow and have a darkened heart. If and when that happens I become a threat and a liability to everyone I love and everyone who loves me.

“The only way I can keep things from getting any worse is to limit the people who are exposed to me. That means that I don’t let anyone else get close enough for me to hurt. It’s not an ideal situation but it is what it is.”

“So why don’t you just fight the darkness I’m attempting to pour into you?” Grey asked. He was a little alarmed that Terra had an idea of what was going on. He knew that eventually someone would catch on but not now. Without turning away from her, he set the tray of food onto his table.

“I am and I will continue to do so for as long as I can. But I’m not strong enough to fight forever. I’ll admit that at first I thought I could purify your darkness, like I purified that shadow you sent after me the day I met you.”

“You did what?”

“I purified the shadow.”

“How the hell did you do that?” He demanded.

“I don’t really know. I was trying to banish it but instead I guess it got purified. Master Bell seems to think it’s something I was just born able to do. It doesn’t happen often I guess, so we don’t really know much about it.”

Grey was silent. He wasn’t sure what to do with this information. A gift to purify darkness in such a way was rare. So rare he hadn’t encountered it in his lifetime. If Terra could do that, then it might take a fair sight longer to corrupt her than he thought.

“Anyway,” she continued, “At least I won’t have to wonder for much longer. My mother announced tonight that I will start to receive training with Master Bell, real formal training.” Terra was so excited she was grinning again.

“So how does this explain your sudden departure earlier?”

“Oh I had this possible premonition,” she muttered awkwardly. She filled her mind with random thought trying to keep Grey away from what she had seen. Unfortunately, Grey was on to her tricks and wouldn’t be thrown off.

“What was your possible premonition about?”

“Uh . . . stuff,” she said trying to keep her mind off her premonition.

“Come on Terra, we’re being honest here. Don’t throw up all these walls.”

She sighed. “You can’t judge me for this.” She started to think about the premonition. How they had been dancing and then stopped. She thought about how he had grabbed her and pulled her toward him.

“Terra,” he sighed. “I can’t see anything. It’s all blurred, whatever you saw has more to do with your heat than your head. Your bond with Reynolds is too strong for me to see. Can you just tell me?”

Terra looked at him, eyes wide, face red and shook her head. There was no way she could actually use words to describe what she had seen. There was no way to know how Grey would react to her thinking about them close that way. He could think it was funny, he could think it was an invitation or he could think it was outrageous and fly into blind rage.

“I can’t say it, it’s too complicated.”

Grey looked at her for a moment. Whatever she had seen must have been pretty bad if she couldn’t tell him. Deciding it was worth it to find out, he didn’t let it go.

“Then come here,” he said extending his hand to the glass.

“What?” She asked. She had been in there with him once already today and that hadn’t ended well. Still, she knew him quite well now. If she didn’t tell him he would hold onto it and never let up. It would be easier to just tell him.

“The only way to get through the bond is physical contact,” he explained offhandedly. It wasn’t that big of a deal to him. He was dancing with her not twelve hours ago. For the past month she’d been going in and out of his cell with no problem. Her hesitation now made him all the more curious.

“Right of course.” She stepped up to the glass and slowly pushed her way through. Grey grabbed her hand as soon as it was through. He pulled her the rest of the way in and grabbed her other hand.

“Now just focus on the premonition, I’ll do the rest.”

Terra nodded and closed her eyes. She didn’t want to be looking at Grey when he saw what she had seen. She kept one heel up against the glass in case she had to make a quick exit. She thought back to the premonition again, bringing all the images back in a rush. She focused and made the memory play out in order.

Grey mumbled something about things not working before he moved and put his arms around her. It was much harder to keep focused while he was holding her so much like he had held her in the vision. She kept playing the premonition over and over again in her mind. Waiting for some reaction from Grey to tell her he’d seen it. He kept moving around, shifting this way and that.

Finally he said something about not enough skin and he pulled away. She kept her eyes shut tight and tried not to think about what he meant by skin. She just kept the vision playing over and over again in her mind. Every second, every agonizing detail she recalled.

Her eyes shot open at the sound of fabric being pulled at. She looked around to see Grey taking off his dark black shirt and tossing it aside.

“What are you doing?” She demanded, alarmed.

“Calm down,” he teased, enjoying the way his being shirtless made her blush a bright red. “I need skin to skin contact and while your dress,” he eyed her dress and its low bust line, “provides more than enough of that, my shirt does not.”

Unable to speak, she just nodded. Doing all he could not to laugh at her face, Grey wrapped his arms around her again.

For a moment he stopped focusing on what was in Terra’s mind. All he could think about was how warm and soft her skin felt against his. He found himself staring down at her, unable to look away. Something about the way she felt against him and the way she felt in his arms.

Ignoring his own strange train of thoughts, he focused again.

“Oh,” Terra mumbled awkwardly as Grey pressed his skin against hers. She kept her eyes closed and tried not to think about anything but the premonition. Grey was very fit and really nice to look at without a shirt on. There was a small voice in the back of her mind that urged her to run away. She was having visions warning her about them getting too close and somehow she knew standing in a cell, alone with him while he got naked wasn’t going to help.

“Now, keep your eyes closed and try again,” he instructed. He put a hand on the back of her neck and rested her head on his chest. Terra’s heart rate spiked as she thought about the premonition. This time she could tell it was working because Grey stopped moving and became very still.

She really had to work to keep her mind on the premonition now. Grey was naked from the waste up and holding her tight against him. With her corset and low cut bodice good deal of her skin was pressed against him. Taking deep breaths she focused.

As the images played through her mind she knew Grey was seeing them in his. Once she had played through it she opened her eyes and tried to see him, tried to gage his reaction. She couldn’t really see his face but he was stiff around her and she was starting to worry.

“You have interesting thoughts in your head,” he muttered unmoving.

“Interesting?”

“I’m not sure what else to say,” he answered honestly. He let go of her and walked back to his bed. He really wasn’t sure what to make of what he saw in her head. Most of it was fuzzy and all had to do with the night she was having and possibly a dream that featured him and that damn sister of hers. There was nothing of prophecy here. He would never admit to it out loud but seconds before she had spaced out he had something of a premonition himself.

He had thought about pulling her in and holding her until he felt the darkness take her heart. He had stopped seconds before she had because the thought of doing such a thing had hurt him.

He hadn’t wanted to hurt her.

He hadn’t wanted to hurt her so badly that he actually hurt himself just by thinking it.

Terra felt her breath catch in her throat.

On Grey’s back were scars, scars just like hers.

Only his were a blackish grey where hers had gone white.

Did he know he had these? He knew about hers, he’d seen them a few times.

Now that she thought about it, he had gone awfully pale when he’d seen them for the first time. He’d gotten rude too. She had left early that night because of it.

Never in the past month had he said anything about having scars like hers.

“Grey,” she stammered. “You’re . . . scarred.”

Grey turned and saw the look on Terra’s face. He hadn’t thought about his scars when he had taken his shirt off. He just wanted to know what future she had seen. He had so many plans for her. He couldn’t risk her seeing something about them and destroying everything he was working for. He needed to know what she had seen sooner rather than later.

Those damn scars had completely slipped his mind. Now Terra was staring at him and he could see all the trust he’d worked so hard to build with her start slipping away. He needed something to tell her and he needed it now.

“Scarred?” He asked, buying for time.

“You don’t know?” Terra asked, her distrust slipping into concern.

“Know what?” He asked irritably. He saw his way out, it was simple denial. She had provided him with his excuse and he just had to sell it to her.

Terra turned around and leaned against the glass. She had forgotten her shawl on the table so her scars were more than obvious. “You see my scars? The ones shaped like wings I told you about a while ago?”

“Yes, what of it?”

“You have the same scars on your back. Only yours are black where mine are white. Do you really not know they’re there?”

“I have scars?” Grey asked, going with complete denial. He turned and stared at his reflection. He could still see his scars across his shoulders. They were exactly the same as Terra ’s. Somehow that night when Diana came in and threatened and burned him, she had burned Terra too.

Grey still didn’t understand how that was possible. He wasn’t tied to her, they weren’t bonded. There was no way she should be burned. He had thought and thought and thought about it, but it still didn’t make sense. There must be something he wasn’t seeing, some small detail that eluded him.

Quietly she stepped up behind him and touched the marked flesh of his back. His shoulders when up and for a moment she was sure he would pull away. When he didn’t move she brought her other hand up and traced the outline of his scars with her fingers.

“I can’t believe you didn’t know,” Terra whispered, somewhat suspiciously.

“It’s not like I have a looking glass or anything,” Grey remarked, still acting like he was seeing his scars for the first time. Although it was a little hard to focus on the lie while she was touching him the way she was. Something about the way she touched his scars sent little shocks through his body. Not bad shocks. They were more . . . intense than that.

“I remember pain,” he said, seeing that Terra wasn’t buying what he was saying. He turned to face her, looking confused.

“It was soon after I got here, I felt this pain on my shoulders. It knocked me off my bed. I just assumed it was something the box was rigged to do. Or that maybe I was dying cut off my power in here.”

“It was me,” she gasped, “I had a nightmare that night and woke up in terrible pain. I don’t understand, how is it possible that a nightmare I had could affect you? Unless . . . unless I reached.” Something close to a realization dawned on her.

“Reached?”

“Yes, it’s something Diana learned about a long time ago. When you’re hurt or alone and need help, sometimes you can reach. When you do that it’s kind of like a bonding only it lasts less than a minute.

“You use your magic to reach out to someone you love or trust greatly. That part’s important; if there isn’t a connection you can’t be reached.”

“So what, you called out for help?” Grey asked, not liking the way this whole “reach” thing was sounding.

“Well sometimes yes, sometimes you pull energy, other times strength or courage, and sometimes, in a strong reach you can share the brunt of the pain one of you is feeling. It’s a way to help someone you care about with or without a bond.”

As Terra continued to speak, she got quieter and quieter. Could it really be possible that she was able to reach out to Grey when she didn’t even know him? Master Bell had made it sound like something that can’t really be done by just anyone whenever or for whatever reason.

Perhaps she had misunderstood? It was mostly second hand information from Diana she was working off here.

She needed to talk to Master Bell.

Tonight if she could.

He was probably still up at the feast. As much as she didn’t want to, Terra was going to have to cut things with Grey short tonight.

“Terra what you’re saying can’t be possible,” Grey countered. He knew the truth that it wasn’t Terra who had reached, assuming that’s what really happened anyway. He had reached out to her when Diana had attacked him. Could he really have reached out to someone he didn’t know?

If it was a question of power, he was sure he had enough for that. If what Terra said was to be believed though, he would either have to be head over heels in love with her or trust her with his life. Neither of these things was the case so how could it be?

It couldn’t.

That was the point. There was no way she was right.

None.

There was another explanation, he was sure of it.

“I could be wrong,” she offered. “I think I should talk to Master Bell about this.” She was halfway through the glass before Grey had processed what she had said and managed to formulate a reply.

“Is that wise?” He called after her.

“I know Master Bell, and I know he won’t press me for more information than I can give him. I know you don’t know him, but trust me in this. I haven’t lied to you yet.”

Terra was out the door before he could say anything else.

Everyone was still eating and dancing in the grand dining hall when Diana slipped in. She had been gone a while now. Seething in her new room, trying to figure out how things had gone wrong with Terra’s ring. She had gone back over the spell and as far as she could tell everything was done right.

When the hexed object was ready it would flash red. It had done that. So why hadn’t things worked out?

Could it have been Terra?

Could she have somehow purified the ring?

No.

She wasn’t nearly powerful enough to do that.

At least as far as Diana knew.

A terrifying thought went through her mind. What if Terra was truly that powerful? Not even she could have purified it. She poured so much darkness into that thing it should have turned the kingdom against her. Was it really possible her sister could be that strong and none of them know?

Diana decided then that she would have to keep a much closer eye on her sister. If she was going to get trained by Bell now, then she might very well pose a problem to the plans Diana was still hatching in her mind.

Terra found Bell sitting near her father and a few other nobles discussing ways to safe guard trade routes. She walked up, curtsied graciously to her father and nodded to the nobles. She looked to Bell; she knew he could tell she needed him. It was just a matter of making the proper excuses and getting away from her father’s ears.

Terra said goodnight to her father and started to walk slowly away. She wasn’t even to the door before Bell was at her side.

“What’s the matter princess?”

“Not here,” she explained leading him away and out into one of the smaller corridors. “Master Bell something very strange has happened and I don’t know what to do or who else to turn to.”

“Tell me what’s happened,” he said, his face calm.

“Do you recall the night I almost died, and then Eric almost died trying to save me?”

“Yes, it was the night you got your scars.” His eyes twinkled in a way that made the young princess wonder if perhaps he already knew why she was there.

“Tonight I was down having dinner in the prison when the Shadow King removed his shirt and I saw that he has the exact same scars as I do. Not similar, not alike, the same.”

Bell was silent as he considered what Terra had said. “Why did he take his shirt off?”

“Laundry,” she lied, hating the sick feeling in her stomach as the thought of lying to Master Bell.

“Does he know where he got them or how?”

“He didn’t seem to know he had them.”

“Didn’t seem to know, or didn’t know?”

“What’s the difference?”

“You said he didn’t seem like he knew. Does that mean he didn’t know, or he led you to believe he didn’t know?”

Terra was quiet for a moment as she considered what Bell had said. Grey had acted like he didn’t know they were there. Still every time she thought about it, it seemed like he wasn’t really being honest. If she considered that he might be lying about the scars then that meant he could be lying about everything. They had promised to be honest with one another since they were stuck in a situation where the other was the only person they talked to.

If he was lying then it threw a lot of things into question. Most importantly it made her wonder if he was actually her friend or it was all just about trying to corrupt her.

No, she couldn’t think like that.

She had to have faith in him so long as he proved to be worthy of it.

“He didn’t know,” she answered finally.

“If you’re sure princess. . .”

“I am. I saw his face when he looked in the glass, he didn’t know.”

“Either way, what matters is that somehow you and he seem to share a connection.”

“Like a bond?” Terra asked terrified.

“No a bond wouldn’t do what this did. This is something else altogether.”

“So like a bond but . . . stronger?” Her voice shook as she considered what that would mean. She was already bonded to Eric and that was hard enough to deal with. If she was bonded or even something similar to Grey, of all people, she couldn’t imagine how much harder it would make life.

Still, if she was somehow connected to him, maybe that would make saving him all the easier. If she could figure out what the connection was and how to use it, she could save him. If the bond could burn it could heal to, right? She would use anything she could to help him and in turn, help Diana.

“Stronger would be putting it mildly,” Bell explained. “Even the strongest bond can’t cause simultaneous damage like this. I’m sorry princess but I’m afraid there isn’t much more I can tell you,”

“It’s alright,” she replied. “I know more now than I did before I came to you.”

“Princess, if I may,” he asked, pointing to her scars. Terra nodded and turned so her back was to him. He reached out and carefully touched her scars. He had heard her and Mammy call them her wings and for good reason. They did appear to be two white wings spreading out from her spine down and along her shoulders. They were jagged and looked like burn marks more than scars.

As he touched them he noticed a strange power seemed to emanate from them. It wasn’t Terra’s power he felt, it was a males but he couldn’t be sure who’s. It seemed tinged with darkness, though not much. For a moment Bell wondered if it was possible that it was the Shadow Kings energy he felt.

He dismissed the idea immediately.

That monster was locked away in a box where no one could get to him and he could not get to anyone. To think that somehow he could have bonded with Terra was nothing short of impossible. Terra herself was more than gifted enough to have deflected any kind of advance he could make at her. She was the singularly most gifted child he had ever seen.

Bell didn’t like it. He was a Master Wizard, advisor to the King, and a bearer of silver magic. Any of these things in their own right more than qualified him to be able to solve this puzzle. There should be very few things that confuse him.

“Is it bad?” She asked.

“No, just puzzling is all.”

“Oh,”

“I’m sorry I can’t be more help,” he said sitting back. “I can however tell you that these scars didn’t come from you.”

“What?” She asked, turning to face Bell.

“Your scars give off a particular kind of energy that is not yours. It seems to be the energy of whom ever gave you the scars you now bear.”

“So, can I ask, is there a chance this was an extreme case of reaching?” She knew it was long shot at this point, but at least then she would know one way or the other if it was possible.

“A reach? Between you and the prisoner? I don’t see how that could be possible at all,” Bell contemplated. Even as he was saying it the gears in his mind started to turn. If it was that he had somehow reached to her, as unlikely as that was, it made Bell wonder about a number of things.

Firstly, if he could reach to her through the prison than there was serious doubts in his mind about it holding up to his darkness long term. Secondly, if he could somehow reach to her then he was somehow connected to her in ways none of them had considered. A connection like that was a frightening thing. A bond beyond measure would be needed to affect a person this way. Thirdly, if Terra was scarred like this than that meant she had felt him reach and had reached back to him. Similar to how she and Guard Reynolds had bonded to each other during a time of great stress. A person could reach but if the person on the other end didn’t reach back than a connection couldn’t be made.

“I know it sounds crazy, and I know I don’t know much about magic, but it seemed like all the pieces fit for a reach,” she explained to Bell when he was silent.

“You may not be far off,” Bell conceded. “Princess, with your permission, I’d like to examine you and the prisoner in the same room.”

“Why would you need my permission for that?”

“You are the jail keeper in this instance,” Bell explained. “You’ve already been down there several times today and I don’t want force you down there again.”

“It’s not me I’m worried about,” she tried to explain. “Grey isn’t the most social of people and he wasn’t exactly happy about me coming to talk to you right now.”

“Grey?”

“Yes,” Terra said, not believing she had let his name slip again. “I call him Grey because his title was too long. He has no real name and he allowed me to name him. So I call him Grey.”

“A fitting name,” he replied with a nod.

Terra could have cried she was so relived at Bell’s reaction. She had been horrified thinking that his reaction would be similar to Eric’s. Granted Eric’s reaction had a lot to do with Bell trying to separate his feelings from the bond. Still, she had been terrified when Bell turned to her.

“Well I guess we could go and see how he feels about some more company tonight,” She offered. “I would like to know what’s going on with all this.”

“Agreed,” Bell said, mentally preparing himself for the darkness that lay ahead.

Grey sat quietly in the middle of his cell, searching within himself for this supposed connection to Terra. As much as it troubled him, her explanation of reaching seemed to be the only thing that made sense to him. What troubled him even more was the need of deep connection between the two people reaching. He had never met the princess before the day she walked into his room all doe eyed and lost. He knew then the decision to use her to get to her sister had been the right one.

So far it had been pretty easy going. He makes a promise to be civil, she opens up to him a little more. He lets her name him, suddenly she’s ready to be his friend. He spends a few nights holding her while she cries away her teenage problems, now their best friends. He’d spent the last month slowly warming her up to him, figuring out how best to get her trust.

With each passing day she trusted him more. As her trust in him grew, he was able to pour more and more darkness into the crack he’d made in her heart or soul. His only real problem was that now she knew about his scars and was dragging the Master Wizard into things. It wouldn’t take Bell long to realize that the scars didn’t originate from Terra. Then he would either have to lie miraculously or come clean about the whole thing.

Each option had pros and cons.

Mostly he didn’t think Terra would believe that her sister was capable of such a thing. He’s seen how she views Diana, like she was some kind of goddess. She would never believe that darling older sister had come down into the prison, unseen, threatened him and then somehow managed to get past the barrier and burn him.

In many ways it still didn’t make sense to him.

So that left him with lying. Getting Terra to believe a lie was easy, she would have believed anything he said to her at this point. Bell, however, would not be so easily swayed. Whatever he told them would have to be as close to the truth as he could manage.

Terra had said something earlier about how she was having a dream. She thought she was dreaming when she was burned, or at least thought the pain came from the dream. Maybe he could use that. He could say he dreamt of Diana hurting him. He was set to face her in a battle to the death at some point after she turned twenty one or so. His having a nightmare about her hurting him, that would be believable.

Or at least more believable than the truth.

Pleased to at least have something to say to Terra and Bell when they arrived, Grey got to his feet and walked to his very small chest of drawers. He pulled out a clean black shirt that had been given to him when he was captured. Most of the clothes he had been given were white, eventually, like all things light, they darkened after being exposed to him.

Terra would do the same.

Soon enough.

Grey could suddenly sense the princess’s heart nearby. Her heart, despite his constant searching, was pure. Not a spot of darkness on it. Something he had thought was impossible. As far as he knew every human had some darkness in them. She was an anomaly, in more than one way. It was one thing about her he was tired of.

It was nearly a minute later that Grey could sense Terra and Bell’s minds coming closer. Terra’s mind was still foggy thanks to her making up with Reynolds. He hadn’t anticipated that and it set his plan back nearly six months. He would still be able to use him to corrupt her; it would just take much longer this way. Her heart he could sense but not see into, also thanks to Reynolds and the obnoxious bond. Bell, however, his heart was usually easy to see in to, as long as he was close

At the moment, however, he could scarcely tell that it was Bell coming toward the door. Once he met a person he could tell when they got close. Bell should have been an easy read. He must be protecting his mind somehow.

Either way, it was nearly impossible to protect your heart from his power.

As he went through some final preparations for his story the large wooden doors in front of him opened. Terra slipped in and pushed the door closed again. She smiled sheepishly at him, she knew he knew Bell was outside.

“Hey,” she called. She stepped forward her leg bent suddenly to the left and she was on the floor.

“Terra!” Grey shouted as he ran up to the glass.

“I’m ok,” she growled, sounding angry. “It’s these damn shoes! I don’t know how ladies get anything done in them!” She swept her legs in front of her and undid the buckles on her heeled shoes. She pulled them both off and threw them across the room, nearly knocking a magelight torch off the wall. She made a face as the torch wobbled and then stilled.

“Oops,” she giggling.

Despite himself, Grey laughed a little too. “That may be the most un-lady like thing I have ever seen.”

“Well you just wait,” she laughed standing up. She glanced behind her and made sure the door was still closed. Then she reached up her skirt and started pulling on something.

“Terra what in the name of creation are you doing?!” He shouted.

Smiling she continued to pull until she was yanking white stockings off her feet. She balled them up and was about to throw them when she suddenly thought better of it. With her luck they would probably catch on fire and burn the entire castle down.

“There,” she exclaimed happily, “That is so much better!”

“You’re right,” he smiled. “That was much more un-lady like.”

“Well I maybe a young woman today, but that doesn’t mean I have to like the clothes.” Terra tossed the stockings over by the table and walked over to the glass where Grey was still standing. “So on a more appropriate subject, Master Bell is outside and he would like to examine both our scars and see if he can draw a better conclusion about what’s going on.”

“So you what, want? Permission to bring him in here?”

“I don’t want to bring him in if you aren’t going to be civil,” Terra replied.

“I am the model of civility,” he countered in mock offense.

“Sure you are,” she muttered. She turned and ran barefoot through the room to the door and pulled it open. She made a small gesture with her hand and the Master Wizard stepped through.

“Ah Master Bell,” he crowed “Come to visit the prisoner in his lowly cell?”

“Good evening, Grey is it now?” Bell asked.

“Ah so young Terra has told you she named me?”

“She has.” Bell answered simply. “More importantly, she’s told me that you and she seem to bear the same scars.”

“Maybe.”

“Grey,” she whispered, shooting him a look.

“What?” He asked, looking right back at her.

“Civil, remember,” she said, half under her breath.

“That was civil,” he claimed, copying her tone.

How was that civil?”

“I didn’t insult him did I? No. Hell I even answered his question!”

“You didn’t really answer his question!”

“I said maybe! How is that not an answer?”

She opened her mouth to say something but Bell suddenly stepped in between the princess and the prisoner. “Alright children lets calm down now.”

“I’m sorry Master Bell,” Terra apologized, instantly sorry she had let herself argue with Grey like a child in front of her soon-to-be teacher. “He does have scars, I’ve seen them.”

“You’re no fun at all,” he uttered, scowling at Terra. “But she is right. She and I do have the same scars, with one difference. My scars are black where hers are white.”

“May I see your scars?” Bell asked neutrally.

“Not even going to buy me dinner first?” Grey mocked. Terra shot him a warning look. He rolled his eyes and added, “Fine!” He pulled his shirt off and turned so the wizard could see his back.

Bell stepped up to the glass and, careful not to touch it, he examined Grey’s scars. “Terra can you face the glass so I can see your scars next to each other?” She nodded and stepped up to the glass. She leaned against the wall and tried to stand still so Bell could examine them.

“So this isn’t awkward,” Grey whispered.

“Sshh,” she hissed. “I’m trying to be still.”

“Good luck with that,” he muttered.

“Could you at least pretend to be nice for like five seconds?!” Terra whispered through the glass.

“This is me being nice,” he shot at her.

The princess made noise under her breath but didn’t say anything. She could feel Bell put his hands on her back so she held still. He made a few sounds and seemed to be mumbling under his breath. He hit a spot near her spine that sent a shock wave of pain through her body.

She cried out, at the same moment Grey cringed and cursed the wizard’s existence under his breath.

Bell pulled his hands back and made a noise that both the princess and prisoner knew wasn’t good.

“Master Bell?” She asked turning around. “Is everything ok? What was that?”

“I’m afraid it’s as I feared,” he replied, keeping his voice level.

“And what exactly are we talking about here?” Grey asked, pulling his shirt back on.

“You two were burned due to reaching.”

Terra and Grey started talking at the same time. Bell raised a hand to silence their onslaught of questions. Grey made a face about being silenced like a child, but didn’t say anything.

“I’m afraid the news gets worse. Not only were you two victims of reaching, but it was Grey who reached, not the Princess.”

Terra looked up at Grey.

He didn’t look right.

She was shocked, completely and utterly caught off guard. She knew what Master Bell had said before they had come down to the prison, but still. To hear it confirmed was something completely different. Grey on the other hand, his shock seemed forced somehow. His mouth was right in the way it hung open, but not his eyes. His eyes didn’t’ match the rest of his face.

“I don’t understand,” she questioned. So many thoughts were racing through her head she couldn’t make sense of most it. “How could he have reached to me?”

“I don’t know,” Bell stated. “Grey would you like to share some insight as how this is possible. Seeing as it was you who reached in the first place.”

“How should I know?!” He demanded stalking away from the glass. He walked to his bed and threw himself down. “I’m the one trapped in a box, how am I supposed to know what the hell is going on?”

Terra looked to Bell who looked back at her and shrugged. He wasn’t sure what to do now. Honestly he was surprised Grey had allowed him to look at his scars in the first place. He wasn’t expecting a conversation with him. To be truthful, he wasn’t sure if the monster knew how to talk at all. The first night they had brought him in he looked more like a feral animal than a man. With glowing eyes and teeth that more resembled fangs, he was a terrifying sight to behold.

Deciding there was nothing left to do; Bell folded his arms and turned to Terra. “I’m afraid there isn’t much more that I can do here. Without his cooperation I can’t ascertain what happened or how to stop it from happening again.”

“Master Bell, may I ask you a question?” She realized the only way she was going to get Grey to cooperate was if she walked into that cell and dragged him back to the glass. As her teacher, Master Bell was required to report back to her parents about everything and anything she does that is of note.

Being able to walk into an impenetrable glass prison would be of note.

“Of course,” he replied.

“As my teacher, do you have to tell my parents about everything I do? Or just what I do in class?”

“Everything,” Bell explained, understanding Terra’s direction. “Thankfully I don’t become your teacher until tomorrow morning.”

She looked at Bell to see if he was just stating fact or if he in fact was willing to keep something from her parents. “So anything that happens tonight?”

“Is strictly the business of two friends and . . . him.” He gestured to Grey.

“Thank you Master Bell.” She faced the glass and put her hand on it. “Oh and don’t be frightened. I know what I’m doing,” she said over her shoulder. “Last chance to come willingly Grey!”

“Don’t threaten me with a good time princess,” he shouted back at her.

With a stressed laugh, Terra pushed her hand through the glass and then stepped through to the other side. She heard Bell draw in a sharp breath. It was too late to turn back and explain now. She strode across the cell, her bare feet making strange echoing sounds on the glass floor, and stopped at Grey’s bed, folded her arms across her chest and glared at him.

“What are you doing you idiot?” Grey demanded opening his eyes to see Terra standing in the cell. He was sure that if people found out she could come and go through the glass walls as she pleased, there would be a sudden stop to their dinners together. Not that he had to see her, but it was certainly better than being stuck with no one to talk to. Not to mention she was essential to his plans for Diana and the entire world for that matter.

He needed their dinners to continue.

“I’m not an idiot,” she objected defensively, “I’m doing what I have to do to get some answers. If you would just come to the glass and act civil for a few minutes then I wouldn’t have to be standing here. Now are you going to get up or am I going to have to drag you?”

“I would love to see you try princess,” Grey challenged, his words heavy with a hidden meaning Terra didn’t quite understand. She did, however, understand the challenge.

“Fine then, you were warned.” She grabbed his arm with every intention of using her aura to help drag him across the floor to the wall. When she grabbed him, he cried out in pain and jerked away from her.

Terra jumped back, looking horrified. She had no intention of hurting him, she hadn’t even had a chance to summon up her aura yet. There was no way she hurt him with her magic. Still, she felt appalled at the thought that maybe some how she had harmed him.

“Grey,” she said quietly, backing up. “I’m so sorry, I don’t understand what happened.”

“You burned me,” he shouted angrily.

“No I didn’t I . . . I just touched your arm. I swear I wasn’t trying to hurt you.”

Grey pushed the sleeve of his shirt up.

His arm was fine and unmarked.

She carefully scanned the length of his arm, trying to find the spot where she had hurt him. Instead she found no indication that there was anything wrong with his arm at all. No burn, no blister, not even a red mark.

“I don’t see a burn,” she stated.

“What’s going on in there,” Bell called from outside the box.

“Hold on Master Bell,” she called over her shoulder.

Grey looked at his arm disbelievingly. “Huh,” he muttered.

“There’s no burn there you big baby,” she teased, grabbing him by the hand this time. “Now come on, don’t make me use my magic just to drag you across the floor.”

Still confused and staring at his arm, Grey got to his feet and let the princess drag him across the room to the cell wall where Bell was standing and staring at the two of them.

“Alright I’m here,” he complained, shrugging her hand off.

“Now stay here or I swear I’ll pin you to the ground,” she joked, laughing.

“Can you even do that?” He teased, joking along with the princess.

“I don’t know,” she answered honestly.

“I can teach her how,” Bell chimed in, a strange look on his face as he watched the princess and the prisoner.

“There!” She crowed, all but sticking her tongue out like a child.

“Whatever,” he laughed, pushing Terra as she headed to the glass.

She was about to step through the wall when Bell put his hand up and she halted.

“How long have you been able to do this?” He asked.

Terra looked to Grey and then back to Bell. “I think I’ve always been able to do it, but we didn’t know I could until . . . um,” she struggled to remember exactly when she had first walked through the glass.

“It was the night you told Reynolds you named me,” Grey offered. His voice was dripping with disdain when he said Eric’s name.

“That’s right,” she confirmed, her face falling a little. “It was the night Eric was named my royal guard. And the night you . . . left the magic in his head.” Terra’s voice got considerably quieter as she continued to talk.

“Yea, brilliant move that,” Grey muttered angrily.

Terra reached out and lightly put her hand on Grey’s arm. It was hard enough thinking about that night and how Eric had made her feel and the things he had said to her. Even now after they had made up it still stung to think about it. To toss a fight between Bell and Grey on top of those feelings and she might start to cry again.

Bell watched as the smallest gesture from Terra calmed what had looked like an oncoming storm from the supposed King of Shadows. He had heard what happened when Eric and his men had cornered the monster on the edge of the woods near the castle town. Nearly all of the men had been lost trying to capture him. He had unleashed a storm of darkness unlike anything they had ever seen. It wasn’t until he had made the mistake of trying to take Eric on, sword to sword, that he had finally been beaten and captured.

To see Terra, who was not just young, but untrained and inexperienced; calm that same monster with just a touch. It was nothing short of amazing. An idea started to form in Bells mind. It wasn’t much, but it was certainly something. There was no doubt in his mind now. Somehow Terra was connected to this monster and through that connection she was calming him.

He hadn’t noticed before, but it was much easier to breath in the prison now. There was less darkness in the room. Not much less, but enough that Bell could take notice. It must have been due to Terra. She was having an effect on the prisoner.

“I think I’ve seen enough,” he stated. He knew that the crystal he had in his pocket would only keep Grey out of his mind for so long. He needed to get away and process what he’d just seen and work out the idea he was starting to take shape.

“So you know what happened?” Terra asked.

“Yes. Grey when you were injured were you up against the glass?”

“Yes,” he answered suspiciously. “I’d fallen asleep in bed sitting against the glass. I had a nightmare about Diana trying to kill me; I woke suddenly to burning pain across my shoulders.”

“As I thought,” Bell confirmed. “Because your cell is attuned to Terra’s magic, when you experienced that pain, you naturally reached out. When you did this your aura came into contact with Terra’s magic swirling around your cell. That’s why you reached to her.”

“But I reached back didn’t I?” She asked.

“You did,” Bell said, “But I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to that. I will take my leave and ponder on these things so I can provide you with an answer.” Bell formally saluted Terra with a fist to his heart and a bow. “Good evening Princess. Grey.” He turned and started for the door.

Grey looked at Terra and nodded to the door. He didn’t need to speak; she knew he was concerned that Bell’s hasty exit meant he was going to inform someone about something he had seen or heard tonight.

With nod, she ran through the glass and caught up with Bell. “Master Bell,” she stated tentatively.

He stopped and put a hand on her shoulder. “Do not worry Princess,” he said smiling. “I’ve no intention of sharing what I’ve seen tonight. I just need to think and this room isn’t exactly conducive to private thought.”

“I suppose that’s true,” she agreed. She threw her arms around Bell and whispered, “thank you.” Smiling, he returned the embrace and headed out of the room. She watched the door for a moment, still nervous that Bell might burst back in having changed his mind about keeping their secret.

“What did he say?” Grey called from his cell.

With one last look at the door, she headed back to the cell. “He said he has no intention of telling anyone what he saw tonight.”

“Do you trust him?” He asked as she sat in the chair at her table.

“You can read minds,” she queried. “You tell me. Was he being honest?”

Grey made a face.

“What is it?” She asked, fearing the worst.

“Nothing,” he said, trying to brush it off.

“It’s clearly something,” she observed, eyeing him suspiciously. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“I couldn’t read his mind,” he muttered quietly.

“Couldn’t at all?” Terra asked disbelievingly.

“I could sense it, but I couldn’t see into it. Like looking at a book on a shelf where all the words are in a different language, I know what it is but I can’t read it.”

“How could he have done that?”

“Magic of course,” Grey stated, tossing himself down into his chair. “So you tell me, can we trust him?”

Terra was suddenly overcome by this strange dark feeling of foreboding. Her brain was trying to remember something that she couldn’t. She couldn’t put finger on why, but she felt very afraid of those words. It seemed like he had said those words to her before, or maybe he would say those words to her soon? She couldn’t be sure but she didn’t like the way she felt.

“Terra is everything ok?” He asked, suddenly on his feet.

“I think so, what’s wrong?” She asked startled by his sudden movements.

“Reynolds is on his way down here, very quickly. So tell me again, is everything alright?”

“Yea I had a weird feeling when you asked me about Master Bell but that’s it.”

Grey cursed under his breath. “You don’t suppose Bell ran in to Reynolds and decided to have a little conversation do you?” His voice was bitter and she didn’t need to ask why.

“I don’t think Master Bell would do that. I trust him.” She met Grey’s gaze head on and didn’t flinch at the cold grey eyes that stared back.

For a moment he held her gaze. Then sensing Reynolds was close to the door, nodded and said, “Alright but we can’t trust Reynolds. He’ll go straight to the King.”

Terra grimaced. “There’s a problem there,” she said quickly, feeling through the bond that Eric was very close.

“What kind of problem?!” He demanded in a whisper.

“I sort of promised Eric the night they brought you here that wouldn’t ever lie to him so long as he never lied to me. I won’t bring it up but if he does I can’t lie.” It came out in a rush that left Grey staring at her, mouth open, dumbfounded.

“Yes, yes you can lie to him you have to.” His voice was a whisper but she could still feel the power behind it.

“I can’t!” She pleaded in a horse whisper. “I gave him my word!”

Grey stared not sure how to keep her from blowing his plans. “Terra I don’t have to tell you what would happen if someone else found out what you can do. You would never be allowed down here again and then you would be breaking your word to me.”

“If I lie to him then not only am I breaking my word, which is my bond as a princess, but I would be invalidating every other promise I have or will ever make. How could you trust me to keep my word to you if I break my word to someone I’ve bonded with?!”

Grey didn’t have a chance to respond as Eric came bursting through the wooden doors at the other end of the room. He face was frantic and his eyes darted all over the room. He took in Grey in his cell, Terra practically at his side save for the glass wall between them. His eyes took in the food on the table that neither of them had really eaten, and finally Terra’s shoes and stockings on the floor.

“What in the name of the creator is going on here?!” He demanded.

“Nothing,” Grey replied coldly. “Just having a conversation, you just missed the Master Wizard himself.”

“Terra?” Eric asked walking over. “What’s going on? People are saying you came running out of here like you were being chased by the devil himself. Then they say you grabbed Bell by the hand and pulled him down here with you!”

She took a calming breath and tried to send calm to Eric through their bond. She could see him take a deep breath and his shoulders come down a little. Whenever he got angry, his shoulders would come up and his neck would disappear. His shoulders coming down meant that he was feeling her calm and calming down too.

“Everything is ok,” she explained. “There was an interesting development and I needed to speak to Master Bell about what was going on. That’s all.”

“What kind of a development?” He had covered the distance between them in a few quick steps. He reached up and put a hand on Terra’s shoulder defensively. He pulled her close and glared at Grey as though everything that was wrong was somehow his fault.

Grey shot Terra a warning look. She gave him a what-else-can-I-do-face to which he made a face and walked away from the glass. She turned to Eric; she had to explain what was going on without telling him too much. She didn’t want to lie to him either. She had to find some middle ground.

“Grey has scars like I do,” she blurted, deciding that was the best place to start. “I saw them earlier. He had no idea he even had the scars. So I went and got Master Bell and brought him down here so he could see and tell us what it meant.”

Eric shook his head, confused. “What does it mean?”

“Grey had a nightmare about Diana trying to kill him,” Terra started.

“Can’t imagine why,” Eric muttered under his breath.

She ignored him and kept talking. “When he had the nightmare it burned him somehow, just like I thought my dream had burned me. When that happened he was up against the glass, the glass that is surrounded by my magic.”

“Alright, I follow you so far,” Eric said, still eyeing Grey like he might leap out of his prison at any moment and attack them.

“Because he was hurting and in shock, he reached.”

“Wait isn’t reaching like a bonding thing?”

“Similar to it, yes.”

“So he bonded with you?” He asked something similar to disgust in his voice.

“Only for a moment,” she explained. “And only because he’s surrounded by my magic. So his aura hit that and me at the same time. He was asleep and didn’t realize he was scarred until just tonight. I brought Bell in to make sure it wasn’t anything like we were bonded.”

“And?” Eric demanded, “Are you?”

“No,” Grey and Terra said together.

“No,” Terra said again. “It was a onetime thing. It was just strong and I was worried.”

“But you’re ok now?” He asked. His rage had seemed to dissipate. He reached out to put a hand on her face but stopped short. He looked confused. It seemed as though he wanted to touch her but didn’t know why. After a moment he pulled his hand back.

Terra swallowed and tried to hide the pain she felt at his not wanting to touch her. She knew he was different still and that the things he had once felt for her were gone now. Still, it hurt to watch him reach to her and then stop. She glanced around the room blinking rapidly, trying to keep the hurt away. Carefully she blocked off part of their bond.

She didn’t need Eric to feel guilty and confused.

“I’m fine,” she replied, stepping away from him. She walked over to pick up her shoes, glad for an excuse to get away. She had learned how to keep emotions from going through the bond to him, it was how she had survived the last month.

So she kept her hurt inside and picked up her shoes. She stood and looked around blinking again. She could feel tears threating to escape. As she glanced around the room her eyes came to rest on Grey. He was leaning against the glass closest to her with a strange new look on his face.

It was pity.

He actually pitied her.

Terra met his gaze and ever so slightly shook her head. She didn’t want pity, especially not from him. She was trying to save him, trying to drive the darkness out of his heart and purify him so that he and Diana wouldn’t have to fight. She was dedicated to spending however long it took to make him better. She couldn’t handle him looking at her like that, she was trying really hard not to cry and this wasn’t helping.

She turned away from Grey and walked back to the table where Eric was standing glowering at him.

Grey however, didn’t seem to be taking any notice as he followed Terra while she walked.

“Does he always do that?” Eric asked, jerking his chin at the prison.

“Do what?” She asked, already tired of Eric and Greys hatred of each other.

“He follows you everywhere you walk and his eyes are always on you.” Eric was still looking at Grey, hadn’t taken his eyes off of him actually.

“Well she’s the best looking thing in here,” Grey jeered. “Just because you don’t see her doesn’t mean I don’t.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Eric demanded, puffing out his chest as his shoulders came up again.

“I think you know damn well what it means,” Grey hissed, clearly agitated also.

Terra could sense a change in the air. It was the same kind of change she had felt when Grey had tried to steal all the light from the room. He was getting angry and still seemed to have some kind of power outside his box. If things kept going at this rate she and Eric would be in a great deal of trouble.

Eric looked at Grey like he was some beaten down dog, something not deserving of his respect. Thinking like that will get him, and possibly Terra, killed. Knowing she couldn’t let things continue the way they were going, she decided to intercede.

“Eric,” she urged, putting a hand on his shoulders. “I think perhaps it’s time for bed.”

“What!” He shouted. He wasn’t trying to yell at her, he was getting extremely amped up the longer he was in the room.

“Bedtime, right now,” Terra repeated.

Eric finally turned to look at her. His face was angry, his brows were drawn down and he looked ready for a fight. When he looked at her he realized that there was something wrong. Her eyes were dark and glassy like she’d been crying and her mouth was turned down in the corners. She was upset, maybe even sad.

All the anger went out of him like the air out of a balloon. His shoulders dropped and he nodded at her. “You’re right, it’s very late. I’m sorry,” he said as he looked around the room awkwardly. “I’ll go and talk to Lewis while you . . . clean up in here.”

He turned and walked away quickly leaving Grey and Terra alone in the room again.

“Good riddance,” Grey grumbled as he walked back to the glass wall closest to Terra. “You know I seriously hate that guy?”

“I know that,” she sighed, exasperated. “I get that you two hate each other but it would be great if you guys could think before you go all crazy with the hate in here.”

“He’s the one who burst in here looking for a fight,” Grey snapped defensively.

“He came bursting in here because he thought I was in trouble. He was worried about me.”

“And didn’t he do a stand up job?!” Grey shouted bitterly. “I’ve never seen you look so hurt. Bastard.”

Terra was ready to fire back a quip or retort when it died on her lips. Grey wasn’t just angry at Eric for no reason, he was mad because Eric had hurt her. Not intentionally of course, but he had hurt her and Grey had seen that. Now he was mad at Eric for it.

“Oh my creator,” Terra muttered under her breath in awe. She knew she had been right about him. She knew that deep down inside him there was still something good. She smiled at Grey and felt like she could almost laugh at how happy she was.

She was right, she could save him.

“What are you smiling at?” He asked eying her suspiciously.

“You care,” she stated, still smiling.

“Care about what?” He demanded looking a little concerned now.

“Me. You care about me.”

“Don’t be absurd,” he laughed walking away. “I care about very little, certainly not a little shadow princess like you.”

Terra ignored his words. “You care about me. So much so that you’re mad at Eric for hurting me. Not because of the history you two have or the fact that he burst in here. You’re mad because what he did hurt me. Because you care.”

Grey was nearly across the cell when he stopped cold. Terra’s words rang true and that, for him, was a terrifying thing. He hadn’t bothered to think about why he was mad at Reynolds. He was always mad at Reynolds. Reynolds was an idiot, and the ass who had captured him, not to mention he treated Terra like . . .

He stopped.

She was right. He was mad because of the way he’d treated Terra. He actually cared about her. He hadn’t meant for anything like this to happen. He was supposed to fake caring about her so he could corrupt her. If he was lashing out at Reynolds because the way he was treating the princess, that wasn’t fake. That was real and it was bad.

Worse than bad it was terrifying.

He didn’t care about people. He never had and as far as he was concerned, he never would. If he was beginning to actually care it might throw a wrench in his plans for everything. Not to mention having feelings for someone meant that Terra was right. There might actually be some good in him.

Just the thought made his stomach turn.

If some tiny part of him had somehow been purified then it was only a matter of time before the darkness got to it and made it right. Maybe his getting close to Terra so quickly had caused this. He hadn’t anticipated the level of her power; maybe this is what he got for underestimating his opponent.

It was a mistake, and not one he would make again.

Terra watched as Grey froze suddenly, midstride. She could tell she’d hit a nerve. It proved that she was right. He cared about her enough to be upset that someone mistreated her. Feeling much more awake and just a little flattered, she turned for the door.

She walked across the room and turned back, Grey was still standing frozen. Terra smiled and shook her head. She pulled the door open and quietly pulled it closed again. Best to leave Grey to figure out what’s going on by himself, he could be a while after all.

Terra walked with Eric up to her door and said goodnight. As nice as it was not to be fighting with him, things were still awkward. She understood why of course, but that didn’t make it easier to deal with. He said goodnight and bowed.

Then he just walked away.

Terra had wanted to talk to him about everything that had happened, but one look at his face told her to leave it for the night. Apparently he also needed to process some things. Maybe men just couldn’t process things as fast as women could. Either way she wasn’t getting anything from him tonight. So she headed into her room and closed the door, more than ready for sleep.

Morning dawned cold and grey over the top of the castle. King Sol stood waiting with his closest advisors for the Master Wizard to arrive. The King had been awoken early by his page telling him the Master Wizard had been by and given him a note for his eyes only. He had broken the seal and found a brief letter asking the King to assemble only his closest and most trusted advisors and to meet him on the roof just before dawn.

Here he stood, waiting in the cold. Fall was reaching its midpoint and it seemed the warmth was slowly being drawn out of the world. It would be a cold, hard winter. King Sol made a mental note to start making winter preparations early this year.

“You’re Majesty,” Bell greeted as he appeared from one of the trap doors that led to the roof. “Thank you for meeting me here so early. I wanted to talk to you before any of the staff gets up and starts their daily routines.”

“And what, Master Wizard, is so important?” Lord Howe asked.

“My lord it is as we hoped,” he started, only addressing the King. “It would appear that Terra is the key to the Shadow Kings undoing.”

There were murmurs and whispers among the few advisors around the King. Bell waited patiently while Sol considered his words. After a few moments he raised his hand the men around him silenced immediately.

“What proof do you have?” He asked.

“Last night I went to see the monster in his cell along with Princess Terra. It would seem the scars that stretch across the princess’s shoulders originated from the prisoner.”

“How is that possible?” King Sol demanded, suddenly livid. “You assured me that box was impregnable. How is it he is able to have an effect on my daughter this way?”

“I’m afraid I haven’t worked it all out just yet, but from what I can tell the scars are the byproduct of a reach.”

“A reach,” the King said considering. “A reach means there’s a bond. A bond would be a good thing for us.”

“Exactly,” Bell smiled. “More than that, as I was examining both the Princess and the prisoner, several times Terra would calm him with just a word or a look.”

Everyone began to talk at once except for the King who remained silent as he pondered what Bell had said. If this so called King of the Shadows could be weakened or made to care for his youngest daughter than that might just be the upper hand they’ve been searching for. Diana was young still and she had much training to complete. It was going to be several years at least before she’s ready to face that monster.

If Terra could be used to weaken him, then they would have to use Terra.

“Was there anything else?” King Sol asked. “Any other bit of information we may be able to use?”

Bell looked to his King. After only a seconds hesitation he replied, “No sir, nothing else that I’ve seen would be of any use to us.”

“Very well then,” the King said. “Keep us informed on any other developments and we will hold a council soon to discuss what we do with this information. Thank you Master Wizard.”

Bell bowed, fist to his heart as the King and his small gathering of Lords walked past him and headed down the stairs. Bell waited for a while, watching the sun come up over the mountains in the distance. He had chosen not to tell the King about Terra’s ability to come and go through the prison walls as she pleased. Not because he had promised her, but because he felt it was necessary to keep some things secret.


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